Summary: Joe Cartwright, fun loving, adventurous and free-spirited has been out of brother Adam’s good graces for sometime and wants desperately to restore their relationship. One brother water…the other brother oil. Can they find the mixing ingredient?
Rated G WC 10,280
Water and Oil
“Please Adam, please. Let me go with you,” begged fifteen-year-old Little Joe Cartwright.
Adam, Joe’s oldest brother by twelve years, was starting out the front door and was stopped by his youngest brother’s insistent pleas.
“No Joe, no way,” Adam said, turning to face the younger Cartwright. Adam did not like how out of hand this situation was becoming. Joe had been begging all day, running first to their father and then to him. The constant nagging was beginning to take control over his thinking, something Adam had always tried to maintain.
“Ah Adam, come on, I’ll be good, honest, I’ll do everything you say,” Joe continued to plead with Adam, turning his hazel eyes to his brother, a look of anticipation showing on his young face.
“I said no! And that is final,” stated Adam turning away from the brother who was the cause of his current bad mood.
Ben Cartwright who had been sitting at his desk in the study rose and made his way to the door where his oldest and youngest sons were arguing. He had every intention of getting to the bottom of this current dispute between his warring sons.
“Adam,” started Ben but was cut short when Adam interrupted him.
“No Pa, no way! Don’t even start with me, please!” Adam said turning on Ben. “I know what you are going to say!”
“Calm down son,” said Ben placing his hand on Adam’s shoulder trying to restore order and hoping that his oldest son would get control of himself.
“Just why can’t Joe go with you?” Ben asked looking into Adam’s eyes and watching the dark scowls forming across his brow.
“Because Pa, I have work to do. I don’t have the time to ride herd over this spoiled brat and I…” Adam started to explain.
Joe, who had been listening, hoping his father would somehow allow him to accompany his brother to the high country turned startled eyes toward Adam. His brother’s sudden out burst referring to him as a spoiled brat surprised him, causing his own frustrations to begin to surface.
“Adam!” Ben began but was cut off for a second time.
“Now you wait just a dadburn minute,” interrupted Hoss who was standing in front of the fireplace silently watching the scene between his brothers but had felt it was time to intervene.
“You ain’t got no business calling the boy names, Adam,” Hoss said as he came to stand beside Joe and laid an encouraging arm around his younger brother’s slender shoulders.
“I agree Adam, that was totally uncalled for,” Ben told Adam, his own brown eyes beginning to cloud with anger.
Adam, who’s temper was closely on the verge of exploding, looked from his father to both of his younger brothers, noting the pout on Joe’s face.
“Perhaps uncalled for, but definitely the truth!” he said, looking at Joe, the disgust showing on his handsome face.
Joe noting the tone of his brother’s voice stood silent. Raising his eyes to look in his brother Adam’s direction, he noted the look of fury in the dark eyes that watched him and decided to keep the sharp retort he was about to make to himself.
“I’m sorry Pa, but I don’t have the time nor the inclination to waste on him. He’s been in one of his sour moods for days now and why should I have to be the one to spend a whole week listening to him whine and complain all day?” Adam asked his father as he placed his hands on his hips.
Adam continued, “To be perfectly honest, I don’t want him along, I’m tired of him and his so called practical jokes and his sullen moods,” finished Adam looking from Joe back to his father and hoping Pa would understand his need to get away for a few days. He needed the time to calm down and rethink the feeling of resentment that had been plaguing him in regard to Joe for the last few weeks.
Adam’s words seemed to effect Joe more than not being allowed to ride with his oldest brother. Without realizing it, tears sprang into Joe’s eyes and he turned from his family trying to regain control. Taking a deep breath and wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands he slowly began walking toward the stairs.
“Never mind Pa. If Adam hates me that much then I don’t want to be with him either,” he said as he cast sorrowful eyes in his father’s direction.
“Now you wait just a minute Joe. I never said I hated you,” yelled Adam, stunned by the way Joe had reacted to his refusal to be allowed to accompany him.
“That’s what you meant, you’re just to scared to say it in front of Pa,” retorted Joe, the tears beginning to spill over again.
“Stop taking everything I say and twisting it to suit yourself you little br…” Adam stopped himself, not wanting to anger his father any further.
“Enough,” bellowed Ben in a voice loud enough to rattle the windows. “I will hear no more! I think the best thing for both of you is to spend a few day together…alone!”
“Joseph, go pack you gear, and you young man,” said Ben turning his anger on Adam, “watch your mouth. The boy is going with you, like it or not! Now finish getting things together for both of you.”
“Hoss, would you please tell Hop Sing to pack enough food and supplies for two people, enough for a week,” Ben asked Hoss as he returned to his study.
“Yes sir,” answered Hoss making for the kitchen, not wanting to be in the firing line least the argument continue.
“Go on Joseph, get your gear ready,” Ben said to Joe who had stopped mid-way on the stairs to watch the reaction of his oldest brother.
Adam reached for his hat, which hung on the peg next to the door. Turning briefly he shot Joe a look of pure resentment then walked out slamming the door behind him.
Joe turned to look at his father. “I really don’t want to go now, Pa. Please, can I just stay here?” Joe asked hopefully. His feelings were hurt because of Adam’s verbal attack and now the last thing he wanted was to be spending an entire week alone with the one person who considered him a brat. The spoiled part didn’t bother him much, he knew he was somewhat spoiled. His father and both brothers did tend to do their fair share of indulging him. But it hurt to be called brat. All in all, Joe thought, I really just wanted to spend time with Adam, like we did before, before Adam had gone away. They used to be close, but now it seemed as if all they ever did was fuss and argue. Joe had been hoping to help Adam repair the fencing and round up the strays. He had thought that if they finished early enough, he could convince his brother to finish out the week with some fishing, hunting and camping. Now it looked as if he would be stuck listening to Adam lecturing about his bad behavior and his practical jokes. Joe reasoned that Adam’s lectures were nearly as bad as his father’s.
“No Joe, I said you were going and going you are. Now do as you were told,” answered Ben looking up from the ledgers he had been working on before the dispute between his two sons began.
“Yes sir,” Joe said turning to go to his room to pack his gear. He knew they would be riding out at first light and he had lots to do before he would be ready.
Supper that night was eaten in near silence. Hoss tried to keep conversation going but nothing other than a yes or no answer passed from either of the other two brothers. Glancing wistfully at his father, Hoss turned his full attention to the meal that Hop Sing had prepared.
Chancing a glance at Adam and seeing the glares that were passed in his direction, Little Joe kept his eyes focused on his plate. He hated being at odds with any of his family; it was unnerving to him, especially when Adam was mad at him. He knew Adam could be every bit as hard on him as their father when given the opportunity and Joe figured he had just given Adam a full week worth of opportunities! What he had hoped would be a week of fun combined with work plus getting to spend time with his oldest brother, just the two of them, was now looked upon with dread. Maybe he would try begging off again or perhaps he could claim a sudden illness, but not likely. Pa was hard to deceive and besides, he hated lying to his father. Lying had earned him more than one trip across his father’s lap.
“May I be excused Pa? Think I’ll turn in early,” Joe asked Ben as he wiped his mouth on his napkin and began pushing his chair back.
“All right son, I’ll be up in a few minutes to say goodnight,” Ben told his son, smiling at him.
“Night Hoss,” Joe said to his brother who was still eating.
“Night Punkin, sleep tight,” answered Hoss in between bites of the fried chicken he loved so well.
Pausing beside Adam’s chair, Joe glanced down at his brother who seemed to be ignoring him.
“Night Adam,” ventured Joe as he stood waiting to see if his oldest brother would answer him.
Without looking up and in a voice barely audible, Adam mumbled his good night as he took a sip of his coffee.
Joe looked sadly at his father and glanced at Hoss then began making his way to his room. Ben waited until he heard Joe’s bedroom door close and then spoke to Adam.
“Don’t you think you’re being overly hard on the boy Adam?” Ben questioned, trying to read the emotion that played across his oldest son’s face.
“Pa,” began Adam, sitting his coffee cup down on the table harder than was necessary, causing it to spill on to the red checkered cloth that covered the family’s large wooden table.
“He’s going, you’ve made that perfectly clear. I’ve already told you how I feel about the situation, but please don’t expect me to like it. I can only guess at what kind of foolishness he will think up for me this time, God, I shutter to think about it,” Adam explained to his father.
“But you can rest assured, the first time he steps out of line, he will find himself across my lap! And riding won’t be very comfortable from then on!”
“Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to bed!” finished Adam as he rose to leave the table, not bothering to say good night to either his father or his brother.
Ben and Hoss sat in silence watching as Adam climbed the stairs. When Adam reached the door to Joe’s room, he paused in the hallway. He could hear Joe moving around inside preparing, he supposed for bed. Giving a shake of his head, he continued down the hall to his own room.
Hoss looked at his father and wondered if he dared to ask the question that had been on his mind all evening. When he could stand it no longer, he gave in to the urge. “Pa, ya reckon it’s a good idea for them two to be alone? You know how they’re like water and oil, they don’t exactly mix?”
Ben smiled kindly at his middle son who was always playing the part of peacemaker in the family. “Who knows son, guess we’ll just have to wait it out and see what happens.”
As Joe started to lie down in bed, he heard a slight knock on his door and watched as his father interred. Ben closed the door behind him and smiled at his son as he came and sat on the edge of the bed. Taking the covers he pulled them up around Joe’s shoulders and worked at tucking them in.
“I’m sorry Pa,” Joe told his father, the remorse heard in the tone of his voice.
“Sorry?” questioned Ben as he fingered the edge of the blanket, thinking this one was one of the lasts that his late wife, Marie had purchased, just before her death.
“Yeah, I didn’t mean to cause a scene tonight, honest Pa. I just wanted to go with Adam,” Joe explained. “But he’s so mad, Pa, couldn’t I stay here, please Pa?” begged Joe. “I don’t want to go, he doesn’t want me with him, please let me stay.”
Ben smiled at Joe and gently pushed back a soft curl that had fallen onto Joe’s forehead and thinking how badly the boy needed a haircut.
“Tell me something son, why did you want to go with Adam in the first place? Seems to me he has been rather mad at you for sometime now?” Ben was curious to know, considering that the boys had been barely able to stand being in the same room with each other.
Joe pulled himself into a sitting position and leaned back against his pillows. Looking into his father’s eyes and seeing the love there, he began telling what had been weighing on his heart.
“Pa, I wanted to go with Adam because I wanted to spend time with just him. We used to be close, you know, before he went back east. But now all we ever do is fuss. I hate it Pa, really,” Joe explained as he shifted his position to get more comfortable and then continued. “It seems like nothin I do is ever good enough. No matter how hard I try he still finds fault with what I am doing or with me. He thinks I’m lazy and that I don’t take nothin serious,” Joe looked up at his father and watched the concern in the dark eyes that stared back at him. “Pa, he thinks he knows me so well. But there’s one thing about me older brother doesn’t know.”
“And that is?” asked Ben watching his son and seeing the tears begin to pool in the green eyes that suddenly looked so sad.
“How I really feel about him,” spoke Joe softly. Ben sat quietly and waited for Joe to continue. “I admire him and respect him too. He doesn’t think so, but it’s true. I know what Adam went through growing up, all the hardships and heartaches he had to put up with. I know he didn’t get a chance to just be a kid, not like I have. How could I forget, he’s reminded me often enough? I know how hard he had to work and that he was and still is your right hand man. I know all of that was done so that the future generations of Cartwrights could live the dream. But Pa, when all of that was going on, I was just a future Cartwright. He seems to have forgotten about that. And he acts like he’s mad at me because I do enjoy the results of everyone else’s hard work. Then at times he almost acts like he’s jealous of me!” Joe continued, pouring out his heart as Ben sat in silence and listened surprised that his youngest admitted to such inter knowledge.
“Pa, this very house, the house I was born in, Adam helped designed, even the barn was built with Adam by your side. Everywhere I look, everywhere I go on this ranch, speak of the hard work that you, Adam and Hoss poured into this place. I try Pa, honest, to do my share. I am every bit as much a Cartwright as any of you and I just wanted to show Adam I could carry my end of the load. I didn’t make the Ponderosa what it is, but I can work hard to keep it what it is and maybe be a part of making it better,” Joe wiped the tears that now ran down his cheeks with his hands.
Looking into his father’s face and seeing that he was absorbing what he was trying to say, Joe continued.
“When I was small, I used to think I wanted to be just like Adam, but now I know I could never be like him. He’s much more of a man than I could ever be. I remember there was a time when I turned to Adam for everything, times when you couldn’t be there for me. I remember when he’d come into my room after I woke from a nightmare and the times he would carry me back to his own room and put me in bed with him so I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. Pa, doesn’t he know that he is who he is because of how life treated him and I am who I am for the same reasons? Can’t he see that he has played a major roll in making me who and what I am?” cried Joe, the frustrations of the evening winning out, causing the tears to run in streams down his cheeks.
Ben leaned over and gathered his weeping son into his arms and held him.
“Pa, I love Adam, I always have, I always will, I just wish he knew it,” cried Joe as he buried his face deeper into his father’s chest where in times like these he had always found the comfort he needed.
Ben moved his son back so that he could look into the face of the young boy who held the key to his heart. Placing a large hand on either side of Joe’s face he told him, “Joseph, Adam loves you too. More than you will ever know. He would without hesitation, lay down his life for you,” wiping the tears from Joe’s face with his own thumbs, Ben continued, “Joe, the day you were born Adam slipped into our room just to look at you. He had been so worried about you, having come early and being so small. In fact, we were all worried, but he had heard you fussing and had gone to check on you. I watched as he carefully picked you up and I saw the tears he shed when your little fingers closed around one of his. Joe, he kissed your little head and I will never forget his whispering to you,” Ben told Joe as he recalled that night many years ago.
“What did he say Pa?” asked Joe, interested in the memory that his father was sharing with him.
Smiling Ben explained, “He carried you over to your mother’s rocking chair and sat down and began rocking you. You had already stopped crying by the time he picked you up but he was determined to rock with you anyway. I think he must have sat there rocking and talking to you for a good hour. He told you he loved you and how proud he was of you. You were just laying there looking at him, just as if you understood what he was telling you and he called you his little buddy for the first time that night. When you fell asleep he put you back in your cradle and kissed you again and said ‘good night Little Buddy, big brother Adam loves you.’”
“Joseph, before you mother died, Adam made a promise to her that he would always take care of you and he has always kept that promise. Adam has never gone back on his word. Maybe that’s why he’s so hard on you. But son, I know for a fact Adam does love you.”
Ben gathered Joe in a warm embrace and held him tightly for several minutes. Rocking back and forth while patting his back Joe’s father voiced a special request to his son.
“Joe, I want you to go with Adam. Both of you need this time together. But Joseph, do something for me, promise me one thing,” Ben asked watching for a reaction in his son’s eyes.
“What’s that?” answered Joe, giving his father the reaction he knew would be forthcoming.
Smiling at the scowl that Joe made, he asked, “Try not to argue with you brother, do everything he asks of you and do it willingly. Will you promise me? Will you do that for me?”
“Pa, you know I’d do anything for you,” smiled Joe. “I promise to do my best not to argue and to do what he tells me to do. I even promise not to pull any jokes on him. Beyond that, I can’t really make a promise,” Joe told his father blowing his nose on the handkerchief that his father had suddenly supplied before he snuggled back down under the covers.
“Do your best, that is all I can ask son,” Ben said as he tucked the covers around his son for the second time. Leaning over he kissed the top of Joe’s head. “Good night Joseph, God bless,” he added as he started toward the door.
“Night Pa, love you,” said Joe, turning over on his side. Ben turned the lamp down low and closed the door as he left. Joe fell asleep almost immediately and slept the whole night, void of any dreams or nightmares.
Ben walked down the hall and stopped at Adam’s door. Seeing the light still on, Ben knew that his son was still up reading. Knocking quietly and receiving an invitation to enter, Ben opened the door gently ready to set his oldest son straight on a few matters.
Adam had pushed the horses hard, he wanted to reach the far upper pasture before sundown. It was beginning to look like rain and he did not feel like starting a week of work with a good soaking. He knew the old cave where he was planning on camping for the few days that it would take to mend fences and locate strays would provide shelter from the elements. After riding for close to four hours, he pulled his horse up for a much-needed rest. The packhorse came to a halt just behind Sport.
Joe was glad that his brother was finally stopping. He was tired but vowed not to let on to Adam. All he needed he thought was Adam finding fault with him for wanting a short rest. The two brothers had ridden in total silence and that silence was beginning to work on Joe’s nerves.
“Hey Adam,” Joe said as he edged Cochise around the packhorse and up next to Adam.
“What’s wrong, you tired little boy?” asked Adam. Adam noticed the hurt expression that sprang into his younger brother’s face and wished he could take back his words. He knew that Joe hated it when someone called him a kid or boy. Adam had known he would get a reaction from Joe and wished now he had not pushed for one. Pa had talked to him last night about the conversation that he had had with Joe. Adam had felt guilt creeping into his conscience by the time his father had finished relating to him the things that Joe had shared with their father. What Joe had conveyed to Pa about his feelings regarding his oldest brother had touched his heart, perhaps more than he wanted to admit.
Looking at Joe and seeing the hurt still evident on his face and knowing that his brother was struggling with his emotions, he spoke softly, “What is it Joe?”
Joe, who was close to tears, looked at Adam but could not hold the stance, so instead he turned his head as if looking at something in the distance before speaking.
“I just wanted to know if you were planning on ignoring me all week. You haven’t said one word to me since last night, until now,” Joe said and finally turned to face Adam.
Adam looked at Joe and thought how much he looked like his mother, Marie. The memory of the lovely woman and the day that his green eyed baby brother was born softened his heart.
“Joe, look, I’m sorry, really, I shouldn’t have said the things I did. And no, I’m not going to ignore you for a whole week, I don’t think anyone could ignore you for that length of time.” Adam laughed, glad to see Joe smiling at him again.
“Let’s start fresh, what do you say?” asked Adam as he offered Little Joe his hand in friendship.
“Okay by me,” smiled Joe as he took the offered hand.
“Peace?” he laughed, glad that the tension was gone now between his brother and himself.
“Peace!” Adam agreed, “on one condition.”
“What condition?” asked Joe, suspicion beginning to cause doubt about this new peace treaty with his brother.
Laughing at the look on Joe’s face he said, “Don’t worry little brother, it won’t kill you.”
“What is this ‘one condition’?” inquired Joe.
No, and I mean no practical jokes, of any kind,” Adam instructed Joe.
Joe giggled his famous giggle and agreed with Adam, “Okay Adam, no practical jokes…at least not this week, but watch out next week!” And with that Joe kneed his pinto into a run to avoid being grabbed by a laughing Adam who in slow pursuit had to pull the packhorse behind him.
Adam and Joe sat up camp using the cave as shelter. Adam and Hoss had found the cave years earlier as young boys exploring on the Ponderosa; and had from that time on, been used by the family and the ranch hands whenever any of them were working fence repairs and collecting strays in that area.
Joe and Adam unsaddled their mounts and cared for them as best they could. Adam began unpacking their gear while Joe went off in search of firewood to last them for the week. The rain clouds had continued to gather and both young men wanted to have enough dry wood on hand to ensure their warmth and comfort in the event they were wet. Adam more than Joe hated the uncomfortable feelings he always got when having to wear damp or soaked clothing.
“Sure hope this storm blows over,” Adam said to Joe as he started the fire.
“Yeah, me too. I don’t like the idea of rounding up strays in the pouring rain,” replied Little Joe as he finished stacking the wood he had found.
“I hate getting wet too,” Adam told Joe while he finished with the fire and turned to unroll his bedding, placing it a few feet from Joe’s.
Laughing while pouring another cup of hot coffee, Joe said to Adam, “Well, if that’s so Big Brother, how’s come you like to take so many baths?”
Adam turned to Joe and saw that Joe was trying hard not to laugh.
“Well now Little Brother, that’s different. You see, I get wet to get clean, I don’t like to get wet to get dirty!” Adam explained as he readied himself to turn in for the night.
“I suppose there has to be logic in that somewhere, knowing you, but personally, I can’t see it,” Little Joe told Adam as he finished his coffee and moved to rest his head on his saddle that he was using as a pillow.
“Good night Joe,” smiled Adam to himself. Sometimes he wondered about his baby brother. As for now, Adam was glad Pa had insisted that Joe accompany him, he had been enjoying the boy’s company. One thing he was sure of…there would never be a dull moment with Joe along. He promised himself to do his best to be kinder to the boy and work at restoring their relationship; he had been missing the comradeship they had once shared.
“Night Adam,” Joe replied as he turned his body to face the fire. Joe would stay close to the light; he would never let on to his brother that the dark cave gave him the woollies. Joe thought of it as creepy and lying awake now his mind recalled some of the ghost stories that Adam and Hoss had told him on other nights when they had been camping in the cave. Pulling the cover over his head and shutting his eyes tightly he waited until at last sleep came.
For two days Adam and Joe worked side by side repairing the fence that was down. Adam was pleased with the progress they had made and was just as pleased with the way Joe had thrown himself into the job. Joe had worked hard; never complaining and doing all that Adam had asked of him causing Adam’s respect to begin growing toward his younger brother.
“Tomorrow we’ll start rounding up those strays and putting them on the right side of this fence,” Adam told Joe as he began gathering up the tools and putting them back in their place on the packhorse.
Joe finished the last rail of the fence he had been repairing and began handing his tools to Adam so that they could also be packed up.
“Sounds good to me, big brother. I’m bushed and I’m hungry,” Joe told Adam.
“Me too, come on let’s get back to the cave. I’m glad that storm last night didn’t last long,” Adam said as he mounted Sport and gathered the lead rope that held the packhorse.
Springing onto Cochise, Joe turned his horse in the direction of the cave.
“I am too, makes the ‘ole cave creepy when it storms like it did last night.” Joe informed his brother, making a face of pretended fright.
Laughing, Adam assured Joe the cave was not haunted. He knew how his young brother tried to be brave at times like that. Adam was aware that Joe was prone to nightmares and held a fear of the dark so he had not commented each night when Joe had added another log to the fire before turning in for the night.
The next morning both brothers rode out in different directions, each in search of the strays that had wandered away after the fence had broken down. Later that afternoon Joe was on his way back, herding two steers that he had found. As he herded the wayward animals through the gate he noticed that Adam had been there sometime earlier and had returned with three cows. Having finished running his steers through the gate and making sure the gate was secured, he sprang into his saddle, turning Cochise toward the stream in search of cattle that may have gone in search of water. It was Joe’s plan to ride up stream for a mile or two then cross over to the opposite side and work his way down stream. The current of the stream was running full due to the rain of the previous night and it was possible that if any cattle had crossed the stream before the storm, they may have been stranded on the wrong side of the swollen creek.
When Joe had ridden about a mile and a half he could hear the bawling of a cow. Joe turned his pinto toward the sound and it wasn’t long before he spotted the distressed cow that was frantically trying to free itself from its muddy entrapment.
“Great,” thought Joe, “Just what I need…a mud bath.”
Taking his rope from the saddle, Joe tied one end to the saddle horn and carefully made his way down the muddy slick embankment, sliding on his rear twice before reaching the trapped animal. Cautiously approaching the frightened cow, Joe looped his rope around the cow’s horns and holding onto the rope, made his way back up the bank, but not before his hat was knocked from his head. As Joe reached out to grab the fallen hat, the current snatched it from his reach only to have the hat hang on the tip of a fallen log that laid in the shallow edge of the stream, just out of Joe’s reach.
“Dadburnit,” Joe said to himself, borrowing one of his brother Hoss’ favorite expressions. Joe decided to haul the bawling cow from the mud first and then retrieve his hat.
Reaching Cochise, Joe ordered his pinto forward and within minutes the frantic cow was pulled free from the gripping mud and hauled up the slippery bank. Joe removed his rope from around the animal’s horns and gave her a hard smack on the rump, sending the animal away from the creek bank.
Using the rope as a guideline for the second time, Joe started down the embankment. Joe tried in vain to reach his hat but it was just far enough from his reach that he realized he would have to step into the water if he were to have the hat. Not wanting to get his boots full of water, Joe sat down on a rock that laid near the water’s edge and removed his boots and socks and with a toss slung them over his head and away from the water.
Carefully stepping into the cold water so as not to fall, Joe felt the squishy mud seep between his toes. “Burr,” shivered Joe thinking how much colder the water felt than normal for this time of year. Joe had only taken four steps into the stream before he was able to retrieve the hat. Snatching it free from the hold of the fallen log and shaking the water from the hat, Joe placed it atop his head.
Later, Joe would remember that that had been his last memory of being in the cold stream. As Joe turned and took a step, he heard the snap of medal and felt the iron teeth of the old trap grab his ankle in a death like grip that snapped the bone of his left leg directly above where the trap had attached itself. Excruciating pain ran from his ankle, up his leg, finally making it to the part of the brain that would register the agony. Blackness swiftly overcame the young boy and with a heavy thud, Joe hit the ground.
Ben Cartwright had spent the last two nights sitting beside the bed of his youngest son. Adam had arrived home late on the eighth day after he and Joe had left for the high country. Having heard horses interring the yard, Ben and Hoss had hurried out the door in hopes that the other Cartwright family members had finally made it home. Ben had begun to grow concerned knowing that Joe and Adam had planned to have only been away for a week. That concern growing in his mind had turned to fear that something bad had happened to one of his sons. As he stepped out the door and onto the porch his worst nightmare had become a reality. There, riding double in front of Adam, was the still, silent form of his baby son. Panic seized Ben’s heart as he searched the face for some sign of life. Adam, seeing the distraught looks on both his father and brother’s face hurried to reassure them.
“He’s alive Pa, but is in a bad way. Help me get him into the house, be careful of the left ankle, it’s broken,” Adam instructed as Hoss reached up to gently gather his young brother into his large arms.
“He’s burning’ up,” Hoss told his father as Ben lovingly placed his hand on the boy’s brow to check the fever.
“Let’s get him in bed. Hoss take him upstairs and then send for Doc. Martin. Adam, you come with me and tell me what happened,” Ben was saying as father and sons made their way to Joe’s room.
As Hoss gently lowered Joe onto the bed, a soft moan escaped from Joe’s lips and the next thing they knew, Joe began calling out for his brother.
“Adam! Adam! P…P…Please help me,” screamed Joe as he began thrashing from side to side.
Adam quickly stepped in front of Hoss and leaned over the body of his brother who was now reaching out for person’s unseen, trying desperately to find a solid hold. Taking both of Joe’s hands in his own two hands, Adam began speaking softly, trying to make his voice reach far enough inside his brother’s delirium to be heard.
“Take it easy little buddy, you’re okay. You’re home now and Pa’s here with you, so is Hoss. Open your eyes Joe…see, there’s Pa,” Adam softly cooed to Joe.
“Joseph, son, it’s all right now, Pa’s here,” said Ben moving to claim Adam’s place beside his injured son. “Shh Joe, you’re okay now,” Ben softly reassured the boy. Joe began to calm down as the sound of his father’s voiced reached through the dark recesses of his mind.
“Pa,” whispered Joe, grabbing his father’s arm. “The water! The water!” Joe cried, trying to rise from the bed.
Taking Joe by the shoulders and gently forcing him back into the comfort of the bed, Ben calmly convinced Joe that he was no longer in the water.
When at last Joe’s fevered body gave over to sleep; Adam was able to partly fill his father in on what had taken place. While Adam and Ben removed the dirty clothing from Joe’s body in order that they could bathe him, Hoss and Hop Sing kept running from the room to the kitchen and back, bringing fresh cloths and clean water for Joe’s bath.
“Two days ago I was waiting at the cave for Joe. I figured he must have found more strays up stream and was heading them back to the pasture. I kept thinking he’d show up but the later that it got, the madder I became. Joe had been bugging me about going fishing and I kept trying to explain that the fishing would not be any good, not after the rain we had. So, I figured he was just taking his time cause he was mad at me. You how he gets sometimes,” Adam said as he finished washing Joe’s arm and was now drying it with a soft towel.
Ben had begun to wash Joe’s left leg, cleaning the mud that had caked there when he noticed his ankle.
“Adam, I thought this ankle was just broken, but it looks as if it has been mauled.”
“I’m getting to that. Let’s finish his bath and then I’ll tell you the rest. Maybe Doc. Martin will be here by then.
Ben and Adam finished the task of bathing Joe’s body and then Ben removed a clean nightshirt from the dresser and with Adam’s help, placed it over the injured boy’s head and pulled it down. That task finished, Ben gently pulled the covers up to Joe’s chest and tucked him in. Ben could see the play of emotions filtering across his young son’s face and knew that the boy was in pain. He prayed silently that the doctor would arrive before much more time passed. It tore at his heart; Joe looked so very young lying helpless buried under the weight of the blankets. Taking a cloth and dipping it in the cool water that Hop Sing had brought, Ben placed it onto his son’s brow, hoping to cool the fever. Brushing back a stray lock of hair, he leaned over and placed a kiss atop the curly head.
It was only a short time after that Hoss was back with the doctor and Adam went down stairs to greet him.
“Thanks for coming Paul,” Adam said as he welcomed the doctor in.
“No problem Adam. Hoss said Joe broke his ankle?” inquired Paul Martin as he removed his hat and coat, passing them to Hoss who hung them on the pegs next to the door.
“He did, but the ankle was broken due to stepping into an old medal trap that was hidden under the water. Guess some fool trapped forgot about that one,” Adam informed the doctor, the disgust ringing in his voice.
“Oh my, when did this happen Adam?” Doc. Martin asked.
“Two days ago, I just got him home today. It was raining when I found him so I had to wait until the next morning to move him. He was pretty much out of it,” Adam explained to the doctor as they made their way up the stairs. As they neared Joe’s room they could hear Joe’s distressed screams.
“Adam! Adam! The water…it’s getting deeper! Help me! Help me! Ple…ase Adam,” Joe was screaming and fighting with his father to escape the bed and the strong arms that were trying to hold him down.
“Joseph, be still son, you’re going to hurt yourself,” Ben pleaded with Joe as he tried in vain to restrain the frightened boy.
Doctor Martin and Adam hurried to Ben’s aide. Adam noted the look of terror on his brother’s face and felt tears begin to form in his eyes. His heart went out to this young brother, he had suffered so much over the last couple of days and Adam had felt useless in being able to relieve that pain and give comfort to the boy. How he wished he could change places with the boy, taking the pain himself rather than having to be witness to the suffering.
At last Ben and the doctor were able to get Joe back in bed and calmed down. Doc. Martin instructed Ben and Adam to leave him alone with his patient and informed them that he would talk to them downstairs when he had finished with his examination.
Adam followed his father down the stairs and into the great room both taking a seat in their favorite chairs. Ben watched Adam as he stared into the fire. Hoss had come in to join his father and brother and sat on the hearth in front of the fireplace.
“Adam,” spoke Ben, “Do you feel like you could finish telling me what happened to Joseph?”
Adam turned to face his father and Ben noted the sadness in the dark eyes. Adam sighed deeply and with a look of anguish on his face, he began again to tell his father of finding Little Joe held captive by the trap buried in the mud and nearly totally submerged under water.
“As I said Pa, Joe was late and I was getting madder by the minute. However, by the time nightfall had arrived I was beginning to get worried. So I decided to saddle up and go look for him, but before I could leave, Cochise showed up at the cave, without Joe. So naturally I knew something was amiss. I searched for a couple of hours with no luck. Then it started to rain and I had to give up; you couldn’t see anything in that dark,” Adam got up and walked to the fireplace and stood silently as he tried to calm the turbulent feeling churning in his stomach. He could still see the lifeless body of his young brother lying as if dead, face down in the mud.
Ben rose from his chair and walked to Adam’s side and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder, trying to give comfort to his son. Adam was his one son who prided himself in his self- control and restraint. It was obvious to Ben that Adam was on the verge of losing both.
“Son, are you all right?” Ben asked as he looked into Adam’s face and saw the misery there.
Adam nodded, “Yes,” and expelled the air that had built in his lungs. “I just can’t seem to get that picture of him lying in the mud, out of my mind. I can’t remember ever having been so frightened Pa.” Turning to his father he continued, “All I could think of was how badly I’d been treating the kid the last few weeks, and I’m not even sure why I’d been doing it.”
Hoss who had been listening to his brother relate the events building up to Joe’s injuries rose from his place on the hearth and patted Adam on the back. He could sense the defeat at being unable to help their brother that Adam was feeling and his heart went out to his older brother.
“Don’t worry about that right now big brother, let’s just work on getting Little Joe better,” Hoss told him.
“Hoss is right son, Little Joe is safe at home now, we can address other problems as they come up,” Ben added.
“I know but once I finally got him freed from that damn trap and out of the water and mud, I had to get him back to the cave. By that time he was freezing and had already begun a fever. I cleaned him up best I could with what I had and tended his ankle, I knew I couldn’t set it without first having the other wounds sewed up, so I had no choice but to wait until I could get him home. And that only caused more pain for the kid.”
Adam took a deep breath and continued, “Then he began waking up and started fighting like a wild man. I was sure the pain was going to kill him and then Pa,” Adam said as he looked sadly at his father, “he started begging me not to be mad at him anymore. That nearly ripped my heart in two. I thought my kid brother is going to die and die thinking I was mad at him, and for what, because I was embarrassed by some stupid practical joke that happened months ago?” Adam said sadly shaking his head trying to chase the memory of what had taken place from his mind. “It was almost too much Pa.”
Hoss, who had been listening, found tears in his own eyes. Hoss’ great love for both of his brothers was known to all. He knew that regardless of how angry one became toward the other, they would come together during times when outsiders might try coming against one or all. The love that each Cartwright man felt for the other members of the family was a special kind of love, a rare love not often found in the hearts of men. And the one Cartwright, who held the key to the hearts of the other three men, now lay injured and sick in an upstairs bedroom.
When at last the doctor returned to the great room, Ben and his sons rose waiting anxiously for the doctor to speak.
“He’s sleeping Ben. I’ve given him something for the pain and something to help him rest. He should be out for several hours,” the doctor informed the worried family.
“Is he gonna be okay?” asked Hoss, not waiting for his father to voice the question.
“In time, with plenty of rest and lots of Hop Sings good cooking, I think the leg will mend nicely,” smiled the doctor who watched the faces of the men he admired begin to relax.
“Ben, he was lucky, if you could call it lucky, stepping in to a steel trap like that,” Doc. Martin started to explain.
Adam who had remained in front of the fireplace turned and faced the physician and in a voice that sounded akin to sarcasm he quizzed the doctor.
“Just how can you consider a broken ankle, being trapped in mud, nearly drowned in that nasty water, frozen stiff, being in more pain than most men could stand, not to mention scared to death and all alone in the pitch dark, being so damn lucky?” Adam demanded, trying hard to control his temper, but not doing a very good job.
“Adam, that’s enough!” yelled Ben, coming to the doctor’s defense. “Let Paul finish.”
“How do you consider Joseph’s accident lucky?” Ben wanted to know, for he tended to agree with his oldest son. He didn’t see anything lucky regarding the injury and pain that his baby son was experiencing.
“Well Ben,” Doc began, “the trap was bogged down in the mud. When Little Joe stepped on it, releasing it to snap closed; the mud slowed the lever action of the jaws. True, it was fast enough to snap the bone, breaking the ankle but it caused minimal damage to the flesh. The mud acted as a cushion protecting Joe’s ankle from severe damage. That is why I called it lucky,” Paul Martin explained to the family.
“I was able to stitch up the torn flesh around the ankle without much trouble and I managed to set the bone. It should be fine in a few weeks. I’ll come back later after the cuts begin to heal and put on a plaster cast. Meanwhile, I want that boy on complete bed rest, keep that ankle elevated, that will ease the pain some.” Doc Martin smiled at Ben and gently patted his arm.
“Someone should probably stay with him for the first couple of nights, just to be sure he stays in bed. Since he appears to be having some flashbacks, he’ll probably have some nightmares, since he has had a pretty good scare. He keeps mumbling something about being in the water,” added Paul as he began putting on his coat and hat.
“I’ll be back in a couple of days to check on him but if you need me before then, send word to my office. That fever should peak in a few hours Ben. Try not to worry old friend, he’ll be fine barring any infection and so far that looks good.”
Turning to Adam he placed a reassuring hand on the young man’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “And you young man, go to bed, you look beat.”
Smiling at the doctor, Adam told him he would after he checked on his brother and apologized for being rude. Saying good-bye to Doc Martin, Adam made his way to Joe’s room, followed by Hoss, leaving their father to walk out with the doctor.
Hoss and Adam quietly entered Joe’s bedroom and found that Joe was sleeping peacefully, much to the relief of his brothers.
“He looks so young lying there like that,” Hoss commented, going to his sleeping brother’s bedside and tucking the covers snugly around the slumbering form.
Adam sat down in the chair next to the bed and leaned over to place his head in his hands, sighing deeply. He was tired; bone tired and he needed sleep. Paul Martin had been correct when he said he looked beat, he felt beat, not just in body but in spirit also. But he could not pull himself from the bedside of his youngest sibling; the need to stay close to the boy he loved kept him there. Something had been gnawing at him, eating away at his conscience and he felt the need to fix it, making it right. But to do so, Joe would need to wake up, and at this point Adam could only wait.
“He is young Hoss. Too young to have to go through something like this,” Adam said, raising weary eyes to look at Hoss. Hoss smiled back through blue eyes that showed his concern for both of his brothers.
Ben came into the room and saw the drained look on his eldest son’s face. Placing a caring hand on Adam’s shoulder, he instructed Adam to go to bed.
“I will call you if there is any change or if I need you. Now go on, both of you,” their father ordered them.
Hoss, who had not moved from his spot at the head of the bed, leaned down and kissed the head of the sleeping boy.
“Night Punkin, love ya,” he whispered in a soft voice. Joe stirred slightly and tried to open his eyes but the sleepy boy’s eyelids were too heavy for his tired aching body to manage.
Adam pulled his weary body from the chair and reached out to grasp his brother’s hand that lay on top of the covers. Giving it a gentle squeeze, he turned from the room giving his father a tired smile. Ben reached up and laid his hand on the back of his son’s shoulder as he walked past, causing Adam to stop momentarily.
“I’m glad your home Adam and I’m glad you are all right,” Ben told him. “Thank you son, for bring my baby home to me.” Ben added, giving his son a brief hug. Ben felt Adam’s body tremble as the hug was returned.
“Good night Pa…call me if he wakes up, please. I need to tell him something,” Adam informed his father.
“Don’t worry I will, now go to bed. Good night son, God bless,” Ben told Adam turning to sit in the chair vacated by Adam, ready to begin his vigil for the night.
Joe managed to sleep the night through, waking only once to ask for a drink. The fever he had had when the doctor had seen him only rose slightly before peaking, much to Ben’s relief. Joe lay sleeping peacefully and Ben dosed in the chair holding onto his son’s hand. This was the sight that met Adam’s eyes the next morning when he entered the room carrying a tray of coffee for his father and broth for his brother should he be awake.
“Morning Pa,” greeted Adam. “I brought you some coffee.”
“Good morning son, thanks,” answered Ben shaking the sleep from his head and taking the hot brew that was offered.
Adam placed his hand on the brow of his brother to check for fever. Taking a sip of the hot coffee, Ben watched as Adam toyed with the covers surrounding Joe’s shoulders.
“Fever peaked out late last night. He woke only once, briefly and then slept the rest of the night.” Ben informed Adam.
Smiling down at his father Adam said, “That’s good. That’s what I wanted to hear. Pa, go down and eat, Hop Sing has breakfast ready, and Hoss is already there. I’ll sit with Joe for awhile, then you go to bed.”
“Thanks son, I am sorta hungry,” Ben said as he left the room. As he turned to pull the door closed, he cast one final look at the sleeping boy before Adam sat down beside Joe blocking his youngest from view. Ben quietly closed the door, leaving Adam to wait for Joe to wake. Ben sensed that Adam had something on his mind and that he needed to discuss it with his brother, in private. Ben wouldn’t ask, he knew whatever it was, it was between his oldest and youngest sons. He did hope that the rift between these two, who were more alike than either was willing to admit, would some way be mended. He prayed that some how what they had been through together this past week would enable them to find their way back to each other.
Adam sat on the bed beside Joe and just watched the boy sleep. So many memories played through his mind’s eye. He remembered the night that Joe had been born and how frightened that he had been because Joe had burst forth into this world earlier than he should have and how tiny the new baby had been. Adam recalled the first time he had held his new baby brother in his arms and how proud he felt when it had seemed as if the baby smiled at him. He remembered other times that he had carried his littlest brother in his arms. During sicknesses, in the middle of the night when the nightmares had been more than the child could withstand and he remembered carrying Joe home from the funeral the day his mother had been buried.
Memories continued to flood Adam’s mind and touch his heart. He recalled the day Marie had died and the promise he had made to her before her passing. He had promised to always take care of Little Joe, which he had always tried to do.
Adam brushed the curls back from Joe’s forehead in a gentle movement. He recalled how he had done this so many times in his brother’s short life, caring for the young frightened boy after Marie’s death. He remembered the many times that he had ran into Joe’s room when Joe would scream out in the middle of the night for a mother who would never again come to comfort her son. How many times had Joe clung to him tightly and cried? Adam remembered the day he had left for college, going back east to Boston and how Little Joe had not understood his leaving but had cried and begged him not to leave him and all the while holding tightly onto his pants leg. That one memory alone brought the tears to Adam’s eyes and he allowed them to fall onto the blankets that covered the boy who Adam loved more than life itself. How he had missed the boy those years he had been away. All these memories dissolved the animosity that he had been feeling toward his brother and aroused the desire to tell his brother what he knew he should have told him a long time ago.
Joe stirred slightly on the bed and Adam waited as Joe found a comfortable position. Seeing that Joe was not yet ready to wake but wishing he would, Adam thought about the week that he and Joe had just shared. Up until the day that Joe had been injured, the week had been a good one. Adam reasoned that Joe had done what he had promised their father before leaving. He had worked hard and he had done all that Adam had asked of him. Adam admitted to himself that he could find no fault at all in either Little Joe’s work or his behavior. What troubled Adam was the way in which he had been treating his younger brother. He had felt resentment and even jealousy toward his sibling. He knew now that the problem had been within himself and not within his brother. He had been the one who changed; Joe had remained the same, Joe being Joe. And yet somehow that had irritated Adam and he found himself being rather nasty to the boy. Adam realized that his own behavior was the reason that Joe in his unconscience state would beg him not to be mad at him and cried out to Adam that he was sorry.
“Oh God,” thought Adam, “How could I have done that to him?”
Leaning down so that he could rest his arm above the head of his brother and laying his free arm across the boy’s chest, Adam gently and lovingly fingered the soft brown curls. Placing his lip inches from Joe’s ears, in a voice choked with emotion and in a whispered plea he begged.
“Wake up Joe, please, I need to talk to you, please buddy, wake up.”
From the depths of sleep Joe’s mind heard his name being called and responded to the voice he knew so well. Slowly opening his eyes, he was surprised to find the face of his older brother within inches of his own.
“Adam?” he questioned softly, his voice heavy with sleep.
“Hey Little Buddy,” smiled Adam as he moved his face further back from Joe’s in order to look into his eyes.
Reaching to Adam’s face and touching the tears that he saw there, Joe returned his brother’s smile. “Adam, I need to tell you something,” he said softly.
Taking Joe’s hand from his face and holding it in his, he spoke tenderly, “ There’s something I need to tell you too, Joe,” Adam told the boy and felt a lump catch in his throat.
“Adam, I just wanted to thank you for saving me, I was so scared, I thought I was gonna die,” Joe told his brother. Having been through so much, Joe’s emotions were raw and his eyes began to fill with tears, spilling over. “I love you Adam, I always have and I wanted you to know it.”
Adam with tears in his own eyes brought his lips down and placed a kiss on Joe’s cheek, something he had not done in years. Doing so now his lips could feel the wetness of the tears as they ran down the face in front of him.
“Joe, I was scared when I found you. I thought you were already dead and I thought if he’s dead, my life is over. How could I go on without you? I knew what your death would do to all of us and I knew I could not stand losing you,” Adam admitted to Joe.
“Oh Joe, something I want you to know, something I should have told you a long time ago, I love you little buddy, more than you could ever know. I couldn’t love you more if you were my own son, and I’m sorry Joe for being so mean to you,” Adam cried as he placed his cheek next to Joe’s. Joe wrapped both of his arms around Adam’s neck and together the brothers cried and the tears of each mingled together landing on the soft pillow beneath them. And for the first time in many years, water and oil mixed, uniting the brothers in their renewal of the love that each held for the other.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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